RaboDirect PRO12 Preview: Munster
Rob Penney has taken over the reigns of a Munster team in transition. Can he oversee a new successful chapter in Munster history or will he struggle as the team fails to live up to past glories?
By Declan Whooley
Head Coach Rob Penney
Last season ended badly in what was Tony McGahan’s last season in charge. The European adventure came unstuck with a rare home defeat to rivals Ulster. The league also finished with a whimper. In the play-off positions all year without ever really challenging top-spot, they travelled to the Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea in the semi-final before being soundly beaten 45–10 by the eventual champions.
Their inter-provincial record was poor by their standards, with home and away defeats to Leinster before completing their own double over Connacht. A heavy defeat at Ravenhill was balanced by a big win in the last home game of the season before the semi-final defeat in Wales.
Moment of the season
Difficult to pick out one incident that stood out. Conor Murray and Simon Zebo both stamped their mark on the team. Here they are involved in a try during the draw away to the Scarlets in a tense end of season encounter.
Centres James Downey and Casey Laulala will bolster the midfield but they are short-term solutions, with both men on the wrong side of 30. South African back-rower CJ Stander has signed from the Bulls, but cannot join up with his new team-mates until his Currie Cup contract with the Blue Bulls ends on November 1. The other new signing sees Sean Dougall also add to the back-row options after signing on a one-year deal from Rotherham Titans.
Key Player – Doug Howlett
The new Munster captain has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He is the new leader and the main attacking threat for Penney’s side. He is the leading try-scorer in the squad but his defensive duties are never shirked. Will be a huge influence on the new signings and younger players coming through the side.
Young player to watch – JJ Hanrahan
The Kerry born out-half had a memorable summer. He was the number 10 for the Ireland under-20 side that finished fifth in the Junior World Championship in South Africa with wins over hosts South Africa, England and France. Hanrahan made the short-list of three for the Player of the Tournament.
He made his senior debut in a pre-season friendly against La Rochelle last summer and played a key part in helping Munster A win the British & Irish Cup. He has yet to play a competitive game but expectations are high that Hanrahan will make a serious contribution sooner rather than later
After providing a record eight Lions to South Africa, Munster’s contingent will be noticeably smaller this time around. Paul O’Connell and Keith Earls should travel while much will depend on how much game time Ronan O’Gara and Donncha O’Callaghan get for Ireland.
Conor Murray and Donncha Ryan will be in the mix-up, while Felix Jones and Simon Zebo will need to impress Declan Kidney initially before hopes of a Lions tour are raised.
Prediction – 5th
Penney will be experimenting with new combinations and younger players, so expect some teething problems. They will do well to close the gap of 14 points between themselves and Leinster in first place, but a semi-final spot is well within their grasp. A home semi-final would be of major benefit, but either way they should be involved in the business end of the season
If Munster were a biscuit they would be……….. a DIGESTIVE
A crowd pleaser, but struggling to keep up with a change in tastes. Will always be there or thereabouts, but may not be people’s first choice anymore. Work to be done to re-invent itself.
Most likely headline
Munster on the Case as Leinster are Down-ey But Not Out
Least likely headline
Pointless and Penney-less Munster Hit Rock Bottom